A bit of a long post.  A 10 minute read

When we begin to simplify and declutter our lives, often it’s because we long for some kind of peace, some space, some relief from the chaos and all the bullshit that seems to be going on around us.  Or perhaps it’s to start to lead a more intentional, beautiful life.

Whatever the reason, something almost magical happens when we dive into the simplifying and decluttering process.

We start to learn about ourselves.

And if we keep at it, decluttering can become a place of deep personal growth and self improvement.

Decluttering your stuff can cause you to confront some key relationships we have with our stuff, and to the world around us :

  • We learn that clutter often represents our procrastination and avoidance patterns, and if we are to address the clutter, we must shift those patterns.
  • We realize that we place a lot of power in objects: the power to give us identity, a sense of value, a sense of who we are; the power to give use security, hopes for the future, memories, love, comfort.
  • But then we realize that this power is within us all along, not outside of us. This takes work, to start to see this in a concrete (not just intellectual) way.
  • We learn about our attachments to things, and how to let go. This takes a lot of mindfulness, and some realization that we have happiness within us, and letting go of objects is simply a practice of that realization.
  • We start to pay attention to what is really matters to us, and that will shift over the course of this inquiry. When we ask this question of what really matters, we can start to live intentionally, and once we start living in line with those values, we evolve our understanding of what we really value. It changes as we take action.
  • We start to deal with the shame and guilt that come up from our clutter, from our procrastination and avoidance, from our years of mindless shopping and consumerism. The shame and guilt get in the way, but they can also spur us to reconsider our patterns, to start the process of shifting them. In the end, one of the most powerful shifts is to let go of the shame and guilt while also embracing the truth of not avoiding.

These are some of the things we might explore while we declutter — many more possibilities exists, and I think you’ll find your own realizations and growth that are unique to you.

Let’s talk about just a couple of these.

The Power We Give to Objects is Really Inside Us

As we choose to live a simple life and declutter our lives, it’s amazing to ask exactly why we the hell we acquired all this stuff, and why we hold on to it with attachment.

See also: Selling Everything and Starting Over

And then we realize how much power we give to all these objects.

Imagine what would happen if we could realize that the power isn’t outside of us, but is in us all along.

Some common cases:

  1. Security: Buying a lot of stuff makes a lot of people feel secure. If everything crashes, at least we have all this stuff, right? This is the idea that my grandparents’ generation, who were raised in the Great Depression, once had. Actually, security is within: being mindful of fear and meditating on it without being reactive to it, learning skills and developing options so that we can survive in many situations, staying lean so we aren’t deeply in debt or overburdened with bills, and in the end, developing the trust that we’ll be OK just as we are.
  2. Approval: Lots of us try to buy nice things to impress other people — we don’t usually admit that to ourselves, but in the end, we want the approval of others. Maybe you buy a nice house with beautiful furniture, maybe it’s a hip old-school record player or an impressive sound system, maybe it’s a huge TV or the latest gadgets, maybe it’s minimalism that is more minimal than anyone else. In the end, it’s all about wanting others to approve. What if we just approved of ourselves? Easier said than done, but the power to approve us is within us, if we stop looking for outside approval. Declutter to take care of yourself, for your own personal growth, not to get the approval of others. Do good things for yourself, and start to love yourself exactly as you are.
  3. Comfort: Just the act of buying things can be a way of comforting ourselves, like eating comfort food when we’re stressed. But lots of times, we buy possessions to give ourselves comfort: a nicer mattress or sofa, a plush carpet or convenient kitchen gadgets. There is nothing wrong with these things, but it’s also useful to note that we’re giving these things the power to comfort us. Instead, we might realize that we have the power to comfort ourselves from within: by meditating, by going for a walk in nature, by giving ourselves love, by resting when we’re tired or stressed, by creating and finding joy in living, by loving others and loving life.
  4. Identity & value: Possessions can often give us a sense of identity and value — a trophy makes us feel accomplished, having nice ski equipment or a surfboard makes us feel outdoorsy, having lots of books can make us feel smart or intellectually accomplished. But the truth is, the way we feel about ourselves doesn’t really come from the objects — it’s an internal process, all coming from within. Want to feel amazing? Appreciate the amazingness that’s already within you. Demonstrate it to yourself daily with 20 minutes of meditation and 100 push-ups. Practicing self-compassion is huge and is certainly something I need to improve in my own life.
  5. Memories and love: We can’t bear to get rid of things because they represent amazing memories, and the love of the people who gave them to us. But the memories aren’t in the objects! They’re in our heads, and a simple digital photo can remind us of the memories, especially if we remind ourselves to browse through the digital photo album regularly. And the love from these people aren’t in the objects! It’s in our hearts. We only need to feel that love from within, and no object can actually give us that.
  6. Hope and aspiration: We hold onto exercise or sports equipment we never use because we have hopes that we’ll do those activities in the future. We hold onto 100 books because we have aspirations to read them in the future. There are dozens of objects in our lives that represent our hopes and aspirations for ourselves. But what if we realized that we don’t need all of those hopes for our future selves? That we have greatness in us, right now, without needing to do any of that? We are exactly enough, right this moment, and while sure, it’s possible we’ll do some of that later, we don’t need it. We can let go of it. And just be content right now. Leaving open incredible possibilities for the future, but being realistic that we’ll only be able to focus on what’s truly important in the near future.
  7. Happiness: In the end, most of the objects are intended to give us happiness — a new smoothie blender will make us feel healthy and fit, a new outfit will make us feel gorgeous and confident, a new bag will make us feel cooler, a new book may give us joy or insight. Those things might happen. But the happiness that results doesn’t really come from the things(and is usually short-lived). It comes from our own connection to our loving, open hearts. The stuff might facilitate that, but mostly it’s probably just getting in the way.

There is some great power in realizing the things we think our objects do for us. And there is even more incredible power in realizing that we have that power inside us, no objects required.

Knowing that, we can declutter and let go of anything not giving us true utility.

Living Life in Alignment with What’s Important, with Intention

One of the magical things about simplifying and decluttering your life and your stuff is that it forces you to ask a wonderful question:

What is important to me in my life?

As you tackle a pile of clothes, a cluttered counter-top or desk, a shelf overflowing with books, the garage you cannot even park your car in, there’s no way to get rid of clutter without answering that question.

To toss anything out, you have to consider what you feel is essential, and what isn’t.

Simplicity is simply identifying what’s essential, and letting go of the rest.

When you start decluttering, you might not really know what’s important. You look at some clothes and decide that you have’t worn something in a couple years, so probably it’s not that important, right?

But as you peel back the first layer or two, you start hitting against a harder layer. Is this something I should keep or not? Does it really matter to me? What do I consider important in my life? What kind of life do I want to live? What do I truly value?

For me, this has started to boil down to a few key things. What I value the most:

  1. Meaningful work: It can be something very simple. I provide a service for people who need help. It makes me feel good both physically and mentally.
  2. Loved ones: my kids, my parents and sibling, and my friends who I love deeply. Spending quality time with them, loving them.
  3. Living a mindful, healthy life, on my terms. This means eating delicious healthy keto food, being active, spending time with my friends. Yes I do have days that I struggle with who I am and what life is all about. I am a work in progress.

That’s all that matters to me. I love to travel. I love good films, television, music, art. I feel it’s important to understand the issues that affect us all, like politics and the environment and racism, sexism and the like. But for me, I have evolved my priorities into those items above.

But those are just my answers. You’ll find yours, as you continue this inquiry into what’s important.

When you start to figure that out, something awesome happens: you start to live in alignment with those priorities. You start to live your values. You start to live consciously, with intention.

When you start to uncover your priorities … then you can start to let go of everything that doesn’t serve those priorities. What’s clutter becomes clearer, and it becomes easier to let go of these.

I am still working on all of this.

Where are you at in this journey?

11 thoughts on “Simplify and Declutter For Personal Growth

  1. When you start to uncover your priorities … then you can start to let go of everything that doesn’t serve those priorities………amen! for me, better late then never. great post.

  2. So much yes!!! This is the sole purpose of why I started my blog and you hit it right on the head! Chaos and stress are so common when you hold on to things that don’t really matter to you! It’s a never ending journey and I love being on it!

    1. And for a lot of us(most of us?) it is our own doing. We buy too much, have too much debt, too many commitments etc. I am just sure why we feel the need to live this way. At the end of the day not much of the stuff matters.

  3. Great post, as always Mark. I started decluttering as a way to keep my house cleaner for longer, but slowly it did become more than that. Another thing I thought was helpful to the process was to ask, “How do I want to feel in the space? What type of tasks do I usually do in this room? What is the function of this room?” Being at home most of the time, I realized I should be more intentional about making it a space I like and that helps me be more efficient. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home, but there was always that one section of every room I would just shove into something that looked organized. I didn’t realize how much it was stressing me out until I started actually getting rid of some of the clutter. You’re right. It really does help to know why we hold onto things. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Wow. Such great tips for decluttering and going through the whole process of dealing with your stuff.
      The ones that have worked for me are to take a photo of a space or room. When I see the photo the clutter really shows up!! For some reason, at least for me, I get so used to a room being the same way even though there is probably too much stuff/clutter. I don’t even notice it!

      1. I will have to give it a try. I love the idea of having the before and after anyway. If it didn’t seem so strange, I would hang a picture as a reminder to keep myself inspired. Haha

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